Sunday, 1 October 2017

Grenfell Tower tolls the bell for
England’s ‘green and pleasant land’

Enjoying England’s ‘green and pleasant land’ in East Anglia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

The poet William Blake (1757-1827) described England over 200 years ago as a ‘green and pleasant land.’ When his poem was slightly altered by the composer Sir Hubert Parry, it became the unofficial anthem of England.

The poem, written as a tribute to John Milton, was inspired by a myth that Christ once travelled to England with Joseph of Arimathea, and that they had visited Glastonbury. This myth is reflected in the original title of Blake’s short poem, ‘And did those feet in ancient time.’

Are city tower blocks the image of the real England? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

But ever since Parry composed his setting in 1916, poem and song alike have been known as Jerusalem. It is sung at the Last Night at the Proms, at the close of political party conferences, in school assemblies and public schools, and at gatherings of the Woman’s Institute, so that it inspired the title of BBC sitcom Jam and Jerusalem.

It is sung at sports events and was sung at the London Olympics, accompanied by enthusiastic waving of the Flag of Saint George as the flag of England, and over the past century it has become the unofficial anthem of England.

The phrase ‘green and pleasant land’ instantly creates images in the mind’s eye of the English landscape described in the poetry of John Betjeman, or the England depicted by TS Eliot in ‘Burnt Norton,’ ‘East Coker’ and ‘Little Gidding.’ This now seems to be an England that many are yearning for today, though it probably never existed.

William Blake’s ‘green and pleasant land’ … a walk in the countryside in Comberford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

But Blake’s ‘green and pleasant land’ is contrasted sharply in his poem with an England that is being overrun by ‘dark Satanic Mills.’

It is not that Blake is yearning for a flight to the countryside from the cities of the Industrial Revolution. But looking at the Albion Flour Mills built in Southwark by John Rennie and Samuel Wyatt, he saw this tall new building as a symbol of the destruction of another era and of the oppression of the workers and their families.

Blake saw the new cotton mills and collieries of his time as a mechanism for the enslavement of the masses and the destruction of culture:

‘And all the Arts of Life they changed into the Arts of Death in Albion...’

The words of the anthem are, paradoxically, an apocalyptic warning about a future England that is faced with choice between either embracing a more open way of life or of oppressing the masses.

Romance without being blind

Weeping willows and punts on the backs in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Since my childhood and early teens, the concept of an England that is a ‘green and pleasant land’ a romantic image has been enjoyable and inspiring at one and the same time.

I look forward to my walks in the ‘green and pleasant’ countryside in parts of England that I have known and come to identify with over the decades. I have been lost and carefree on many a Sunday afternoon as I wander through fields and farms in south Staffordshire, East Anglia and the West Country.

But enjoying that romantic England has never blinded me to the reality of an England of factories and tower blocks, of over-crowded city streets and slums, in London or Birmingham, Bristol, Derby or Liverpool.

Reflecting on England today … a timber-framed thatched pub on borders of Hertfordshire and Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

I am conscious that the England I am familiar with in Cambridge or Lichfield is an England that is not only unknown to many people in Ireland, but an England that is unknown to the vast majority of people who live in English cities today.

But never since the miners’ strikes and the CND protests in Thatcher’s England in the 1980s have I known England to be so deeply divided as England is today. The hopes and dreams of a more equal society that people like me cherished in the 1980s have evaporated and they have given way to the divisiveness and despair that prevails today.

Three changing events

Was Jane Austen in Cambridge a comment on Brexit … 52 per cent Pride and Prejudice; 48 per cent Sense and Sensibility? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

I am not sure whether three events have changed the climate in England, or whether they merely illustrate change that has been coming about for years: the Brexit referendum last year, the general election this year, and the response to the horrors of the Grenfell Tower fire this summer.

The people who live in tower blocks were targeted in the referendum last year and in the election this year. They knew the Tories never had their interests at heart, they felt betrayed and abandoned by the Labour Party, and clever canvassing tipped the balance. But the first victims of Brexit are going to be the very people who were convinced to vote to leave, thinking it would reverse their misfortunes and remove their alienation.

In the middle of all the angst about Brexit this summer, during the parliamentary recess, there was a cultural diversion when England marked the 200th birthday of Jane Austen on 18 July 1817. It is interesting that a romantic writer is the only woman, apart from Queen Elizabeth, to feature on a Bank of England banknote since Elizabeth Fry was replaced by Winston Churchill on the £5 note.

In today’s broken and divided England, an airbrushed image of England’s favourite romantic writer has more appeal than a woman who campaigned for the rights of prisoners and against war and racism.

As part of the celebrations of Jane Austen’s bicentenary, the Cambridge University Press published a series of new editions of her works. Perhaps those who voted for ‘Brexit’ might consider her words in Northanger Abbey published 200 years ago in 1817:

‘Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind, is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid.’

A summer window display in the CUP shop in Cambridge placed Pride and Prejudice to the right and Sense and Sensibility to the left. A friend quipped that this was a referendum window, just a year after the vote: 52 per cent Pride and Prejudice; 48 per cent Sense and Sensibility.

Jeffrey Archer’s house in Grantchester … the Old Vicarage of Rupert Brooke (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It is not too cruel to say that the way in which the cultured gives way to the crass is typified in the differences between the prose of Jane Austen written 200 years ago and the blockbusters by Jeffrey Archer, who today lives near Cambridge in Grantchester.

Cruel and cynical slogans

Early summer flowers in an English garden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

There is a constant mantra from the politicians who support Brexit that the people have voted and that there is no going back. But democracy would come to a sorry end if we were only ever allowed to have one election, never to vote again.

A cold and cynical slogan during the Brexit referendum was seen on the side of campaign buses: ‘We send the EU £350 million a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead. Vote Leave.’

Leading Brexiteers including Boris Johnson were photographed alongside the bus. But the pledge was dropped immediately when Teresa May succeeded David Cameron and moved into No 10 Downing Street.

A traditional tea shop and a modern coffee shop side-by-side in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

As the EU penalises Britain for leaving, as borders close, banks withdraw, factories close and skilled but fearful workers leave, the voters who were convinced into voting leave will find there is no extra £350 million, and there is no new inward investment to create new jobs.

On the other hand, wealth remains where it has always been. According to a report in Country Life, one-third of Britain’s land still belongs to the aristocracy, and the Guardian recently showed the staggering degree to which the landed aristocracy benefits from payments under the EU’s common agricultural policy.

At least one in five of Britain’s top 100 single-payment recipients in 2015-2016 was aristocratic: in one year, the Duke of Northumberland’s Percy Farms took £1,010,672, and the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Farms estate £913,517. Chris Bryant estimates that once multiplied across the years, these EU payments have benefited the British aristocracy to the tune of many millions of pounds.

The hereditary peerage has consistently resisted democratic reform of House of Lords, and 92 hereditary peers still sit in Lords. The administration formed by Theresa May in June included one earl, one viscount and three hereditary barons.

The parish church in Trumpington (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When Grenfell Tower burned down in the early morning on 14 June with over 80 deaths, it was just nine days short of the anniversary of the referendum. But it was surprising for the residents of Grenfell how Teresa May, other cabinet ministers and members of the royal family were slow in arriving on the spot to offer tea and sympathy.

Churches and other faith groups responded immediately with practical compassion. Cabinet ministers by their absence in those first 48 hours showed that today’s England is not so much ‘Strong and Stable’ as ‘Weak and Wilting.’

‘Significant and destabilising gap’

Is the Church providing a prophetic critique? … Saint Paul’s Cathedral in the City in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Is the Church providing a prophetic critique? Writing in the Financial Times in September, the Archbishop of Canterbury said capitalism in Britain is broken and needs urgent reform. Archbishop Justin Welby said Britain is failing children who ‘will grow up into a world where the gap between the richest and poorest parts of the country is significant and destabilising.’

Tudor architecture in Vicars’ Close, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Jerusalem of Blake and Parry is inspired by the apocalyptic images of the second coming (Revelation 3: 12 and 21: 2), in which Christ establishes the New Jerusalem. Blake suggests that a visit by Christ could create a heaven in England that is in contrast to the ‘dark Satanic Mills’ of the Industrial Revolution.

The England that was part of my growing up was a welcoming and hospitable land, characterised by and symbolised in a romantic way by public footpaths that invited the city and town dweller to cross the wooden style and to walk out into the open green and yellow countryside.

Hospitality and welcome are as much part of the English spirit and psyche as they were part of the Irish self-image. Despite the xenophobia created by Brexit, I still imagine walking into country pubs with low wooden beams and warm fires in which I am instantly engaged in conversation and invited into the community.

Public footpaths are romantic symbols of a welcoming and hospitable England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

But the apocalyptic image that I fear may be unfolding in England today means the England of tea shops and timber-framed, river-side pubs with inglenooks is changing if not lost. Alongside them is the England of the ‘Wind in the Willows’ and Punting on the Backs in Cambridge, of tea in the Orchard in Grantchester and country churches with their churchyards, of thatched cottages and English country gardens.

A walk along a country lane near Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In this nightmare, the tower blocks are crumbling in ashes and the flag of Saint George is torn and tattered as it flutters alone against a grey sky.

But it is a nightmare, not a dream. England is divided today in a way I have not known for decades. But the English people I know keep my faith in the England that I know can be.

The world of the traditional, welcoming English pub is changing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This feature was first published in the October 2017 editions of the ‘Church Review’ (Dublin and Glendalough) and the ‘Diocesan Magazine’ (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory)

The flag of Saint George is torn and tattered as it flutters alone against a grey sky (Photograph: Patrick Comerfordm 2017)

How do we pray that we may
‘both perceive and know’?

‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today’ (Matthew 21: 28) ... vineyards on the slopes of the hills in Tuscany (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The 15th Sunday after Trinity.


11.30 a.m.: Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert, Co Kerry, Morning Prayer.

Readings: Exodus 17: 1-7; Psalm 78; Philippians 2: 1-13; Matthew 21: 23-32.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Black or white?

Dog or cat?

Land or sea?

Wet bob or dry bob?

Paris or Rome?

Wine or beer?

It’s the sort of game we all play in our families at one time or another. I loved playing ‘Matching Pairs’ with my sons when they were at the early learning stage.

For adults, there are similar jokes about two kinds of people we compare or contrast:

‘There are two types of people: those who divide people into two categories, and those who don’t.’

For the mathematicians among us: ‘There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.’

And for those with a more subtle sense of humour: ‘There are two types of people in this world: Those who can extrapolate from incomplete data.’

This morning’s readings give us contrasting pairs:

In the Old Testament reading (Exodus 17: 1-7), we see contrasts between adults and children; water and wilderness; testing and thirsting; obeying and quarrelling; responsible freedom and slavery without responsibility.

This morning’s Psalm (Psalm 78) contrasts images of ancestors and children, day and night, rock and river, and so on.

In our Epistle reading (Philippians 2: 1-13), the Apostle Paul gives us the stark contrasts offered in Christ of slavery and freedom, deity and humanity, fear and trembling, heaven and earth.

This helps us to prepare for the matching pairs or clashing contrasts we find in our Gospel reading (Matthew 21: 23-32).

This reading is set in the immediate aftermath of Christ’s entry in triumph into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and his cleansing of the Temple.

When he returns to the Temple the following day, he is confronted by the religious and civic leaders, the guardians of belief and tradition, who challenge and question him about his power and authority.

The ‘chief priests and the elders of the people’ are the leaders in the Temple hierarchy, and also at the apex of society in Jerusalem – questioning Jesus about what gives him authority. In particular, they ask what gives him the right to behave as he does, and especially the right to claim he is acting in God’s name when he is behaving like that.

It is a question that Christ might have expected, under the circumstances. The exchange takes place when he enters the Temple. The day before had been an eventful day: when Christ enters Jerusalem and the crowds hail him as king. He next goes into the Temple courts, he overturns the tables and the seats of the money changers and the dove sellers, and he speaks about the destruction of the Temple.

The Temple authorities have been offended. Quite naturally, they have to confront him.

Who does he think he is?

What gives him the right to force his way in and stir things up?

What authority has he to behave like this?

But, in a clever manoeuvre, Christ answers their questions by asking his own question.

A clever manoeuvre, indeed. It was acceptable then, but every bar room lawyer knows now that you are not allowed to ask questions that allow only a choice between two convicting answers, loaded questions like: ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’

Loaded questions are loaded with presuppositions, often with built-in fallacies and false dichotomies.

And the chief priests and the elders fall into a trap that every sixth-form debater would know how to set and how to escape.

There is a great deal of humour here. Those who are skilled in the Law failed to see the flawed legal trap. And in doing this they display their innate inabilities, their incomparable incompetence, their own failures in judgment.

In this morning’s reading, Christ answers with a two-part question. And once again, he turns the tables on those who confront him. They are taken aback; they are caught in a dilemma. If they answer one way, they are caught out; if they answer the other, they are still caught out. It’s a dichotomy. And either way they cannot win.

As they are left mulling this over, Christ tells the parable of two sons and a father. The second dichotomy, the second comparison, the second either/or choice, is posed when Christ tells this parable about a father who sends his two sons, a willing son and an unwilling son, to work in the family vineyard.

It is a sharp contrast between being and doing.

Being and doing: T-shirts on sale in the Plaka in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The two sons remind me of the T-shirt I have joked about for years and that eventually I bought this summer in the Plaka in Athens with these words:

‘To do is to be’ – Socrates

‘To be is to do’ – Plato

‘Do be do be do be do’ – Sinatra

The American publisher Cyrus Curtis (1850-1933) once said: ‘There are two kinds of people who never amount to much: those who cannot do what they are told, and those who can do nothing else.’

But the two sons illustrate a serious dilemma:

Those who respond negatively to what they are asked to do, may eventually do it … and recognise their initial wilfulness.

Those who say they are going to do something they are tasked with, but then refuse to follow-up, to deliver, to do, refuse to recognise their own wilfulness yet persist in their sinfulness.

How often have you responded to people because of their words rather than their deeds and found you have completely misjudged them?

A Mediterranean village vineyard … grapes ripening in Tsesmes, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The two sons are asked to go to work in the family vineyard.

One son says: ‘I will not.’ In a Mediterranean village culture, in which there is no such thing as personal privacy, this son’s reaction to his father shames the father publicly.

The other son says: ‘I go, sir.’ In public, he appears to be as a good son should be.

But the tables are turned when we learn that the son who mouths off actually goes to work in the vineyard, while the son who seems at first to be good and dutiful turns out to be disobedient.

So those who say they are compliant and say they are doing the right thing have headed off to do things their own way, while claiming they are doing what God wants.

On the other hand, Christ tells all present that even prostitutes and tax collectors who appear to be disobedient might actually end up with a true place in the vineyard. In today’s context, who are the people I keep excluding from the kingdom yet are being called in by God?

Paradoxes aside, most of us are not like one son or the other … most of us are like both sons, and wrestle with their responses and their approaches throughout our lives.

Have you ever received an invitation to a party, a book launch, a wedding, with those four little letters at the end: ‘RSVP’?

Have you ever been one of those people who, anxious not to offend, sends back a reply saying yes, I’ll be there, and then … and then something else crops up, and I fail to turn up?

It has happened to me. I have been invited to parties and book launches, ignored the RSVP line in the bottom corner, and then, at the last moment, turned up. And, I have to confess, I have, at least one or twice, accepted … and not turned up.

On which evening do you think I was most appreciated, most welcomed?

An obvious answer, I think.

It is more forgivable to be socially awkward than to be wilfully rude.

When we strive with the demands of Christian living, with Christian discipleship, it is easy to be like one of these sons.

There are times when we may find it difficult to do what God is asking you to do. We wait, we think, we ponder, but eventually we answer that RSVP and seek to do God’s will.

We say ‘No’ countless times, and then realise how worthwhile it all is: labouring in the vineyard should be hard work, but it leads to a good harvest and good wine.

I have to be careful to distinguish between God’s will and my own will. When they coincide, there are countless blessings. But when they are in conflict, I need to beware of pretending that one is the other, that I am answering the Father’s call and doing his work, when in reality I am doing what I want to do myself, and telling others what I want rather than what God wants.

In the words of the Collect of the Day this morning, we pray that we may all, each one of us, that we may ‘both perceive and know’ … but these two are not good enough on their own; instead, we pray that we may ‘both perceive and know what things’ we ‘ought do’ … so that with God’s grace we actual do them.

Being and doing come together; we know what to do, and we do it.

In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis claims: ‘There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done”.’

And we encourage one another to do God’s will and we find that when we do God’s will, it is God’s will for us, when in the Church, as Saint Paul encourages us this morning, we are ‘of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind’ (Philippians 2: 2).

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

At work in the vineyard ... grapes ripening on the vines in the Hedgehog in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect:

O Lord, Hear the prayers of your people who call upon you;
and grant that they may both perceive and know
what things they ought to do,
and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for 1 October 2017.

Being and doing … are
there two ways of saying
yes, and of saying no?

Being and doing: T-shirts on sale in the Plaka in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The 15th Sunday after Trinity.


9.30 a.m.: Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, Holy Communion (the Parish Eucharist).

Readings: Exodus 17: 1-7; Psalm 78; Philippians 2: 1-13; Matthew 21: 23-32.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Black or white?

Dog or cat?

Land or sea?

Wet bob or dry bob?

Paris or Rome?

Wine or beer?

It’s the sort of game we all play in our families at one time or another. I loved playing ‘Matching Pairs’ with my sons when they were at the early learning stage.

For adults, there are similar jokes about two kinds of people we compare or contrast:

‘There are two types of people: those who divide people into two categories, and those who don’t.’

For the mathematicians among us: ‘There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.’

And for those with a more subtle sense of humour: ‘There are two types of people in this world: Those who can extrapolate from incomplete data.’

This morning’s readings give us contrasting pairs:

In the Old Testament reading (Exodus 17: 1-7), we see contrasts between adults and children; water and wilderness; testing and thirsting; obeying and quarrelling; responsible freedom and slavery without responsibility.

This morning’s Psalm (Psalm 78) contrasts images of ancestors and children, day and night, rock and river, and so on.

In our Epistle reading (Philippians 2: 1-13), the Apostle Paul gives us the stark contrasts offered in Christ of slavery and freedom, deity and humanity, fear and trembling, heaven and earth.

This helps us to prepare for the matching pairs or clashing contrasts we find in our Gospel reading (Matthew 21: 23-32).

This reading is set in the immediate aftermath of Christ’s entry in triumph into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and his cleansing of the Temple.

When he returns to the Temple the following day, he is confronted by the religious and civic leaders, the guardians of belief and tradition, who challenge and question him about his power and authority.

The ‘chief priests and the elders of the people’ are the leaders in the Temple hierarchy, and also at the apex of society in Jerusalem – questioning Jesus about what gives him authority. In particular, they ask what gives him the right to behave as he does, and especially the right to claim he is acting in God’s name when he is behaving like that.

It is a question that Christ might have expected, under the circumstances. The exchange takes place when he enters the Temple. The day before had been an eventful day: when Christ enters Jerusalem and the crowds hail him as king. He next goes into the Temple courts, he overturns the tables and the seats of the money changers and the dove sellers, and he speaks about the destruction of the Temple.

The Temple authorities have been offended. Quite naturally, they have to confront him.

Who does he think he is?

What gives him the right to force his way in and stir things up?

What authority has he to behave like this?

But, in a clever manoeuvre, Christ answers their questions by asking his own question.

A clever manoeuvre, indeed. It was acceptable then, but every bar room lawyer knows now that you are not allowed to ask questions that allow only a choice between two convicting answers, loaded questions like: ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’

Loaded questions are loaded with presuppositions, often with built-in fallacies and false dichotomies.

And the chief priests and the elders fall into a trap that every sixth-form debater would know how to set and how to escape.

There is a great deal of humour here. Those who are skilled in the Law failed to see the flawed legal trap. And in doing this they display their innate inabilities, their incomparable incompetence, their own failures in judgment.

In this morning’s reading, Christ answers with a two-part question. And once again, he turns the tables on those who confront him. They are taken aback; they are caught in a dilemma. If they answer one way, they are caught out; if they answer the other, they are still caught out. It’s a dichotomy. And either way they cannot win.

‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today’ (Matthew 21: 28) ... vineyards on the slopes of the hills in Tuscany (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As they are left mulling this over, Christ tells the parable of two sons and a father. The second dichotomy, the second comparison, the second either/or choice, is posed when Christ tells this parable about a father who sends his two sons, a willing son and an unwilling son, to work in the family vineyard.

It is a sharp contrast between being and doing.

The two sons remind me of the T-shirt I have joked about for years and that eventually I bought this summer in the Plaka in Athens with these words:

‘To do is to be’ – Socrates

‘To be is to do’ – Plato

‘Do be do be do be do’ – Sinatra

The American publisher Cyrus Curtis (1850-1933) once said: ‘There are two kinds of people who never amount to much: those who cannot do what they are told, and those who can do nothing else.’

But the two sons illustrate a serious dilemma:

Those who respond negatively to what they are asked to do, may eventually do it … and recognise their initial wilfulness.

Those who say they are going to do something they are tasked with, but then refuse to follow-up, to deliver, to do, refuse to recognise their own wilfulness yet persist in their sinfulness.

How often have you responded to people because of their words rather than their deeds and found you have completely misjudged them?

A Mediterranean village vineyard … grapes ripening in Tsesmes, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The two sons are asked to go to work in the family vineyard.

One son says: ‘I will not.’ In a Mediterranean village culture, in which there is no such thing as personal privacy, this son’s reaction to his father shames the father publicly.

The other son says: ‘I go, sir.’ In public, he appears to be as a good son should be.

But the tables are turned when we learn that the son who mouths off actually goes to work in the vineyard, while the son who seems at first to be good and dutiful turns out to be disobedient.

So those who say they are compliant and say they are doing the right thing have headed off to do things their own way, while claiming they are doing what God wants.

On the other hand, Christ tells all present that even prostitutes and tax collectors who appear to be disobedient might actually end up with a true place in the vineyard. In today’s context, who are the people I keep excluding from the kingdom yet are being called in by God?

Paradoxes aside, most of us are not like one son or the other … most of us are like both sons, and wrestle with their responses and their approaches throughout our lives.

Have you ever received an invitation to a party, a book launch, a wedding, with those four little letters at the end: ‘RSVP’?

Have you ever been one of those people who, anxious not to offend, sends back a reply saying yes, I’ll be there, and then … and then something else crops up, and I fail to turn up?

It has happened to me. I have been invited to parties and book launches, ignored the RSVP line in the bottom corner, and then, at the last moment, turned up. And, I have to confess, I have, at least one or twice, accepted … and not turned up.

On which evening do you think I was most appreciated, most welcomed?

An obvious answer, I think.

It is more forgivable to be socially awkward than to be wilfully rude.

When we strive with the demands of Christian living, with Christian discipleship, it is easy to be like one of these sons.

There are times when we may find it difficult to do what God is asking you to do. We wait, we think, we ponder, but eventually we answer that RSVP and seek to do God’s will.

We say ‘No’ countless times, and then realise how worthwhile it all is: labouring in the vineyard should be hard work, but it leads to a good harvest and good wine.

I have to be careful to distinguish between God’s will and my own will. When they coincide, there are countless blessings. But when they are in conflict, I need to beware of pretending that one is the other, that I am answering the Father’s call and doing his work, when in reality I am doing what I want to do myself, and telling others what I want rather than what God wants.

In the words of the Collect of the Day this morning, we pray that we may all, each one of us, that we may ‘both perceive and know’ … but these two are not good enough on their own; instead, we pray that we may ‘both perceive and know what things’ we ‘ought do’ … so that with God’s grace we actual do them.

Being and doing come together; we know what to do, and we do it.

In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis claims: ‘There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done”.’

And we encourage one another to do God’s will and we find that when we do God’s will, it is God’s will for us, when in the Church, as Saint Paul encourages us this morning, we are ‘of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind’ (Philippians 2: 2).

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

At work in the vineyard ... grapes ripening on the vines in the Hedgehog in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect:

O Lord, Hear the prayers of your people who call upon you;
and grant that they may both perceive and know
what things they ought to do,
and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of mercy, through our sharing in this holy sacrament
you make us one body in Christ.
Fashion us in his likeness here on earth,
that we may share his glorious company in heaven,
where he lives and reigns now and for ever.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for 1 October 2017.